Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM)

Critical supply.(Final)

Byline: Stories by Tania Soussan Photographs by Richard Pipes Of the Journal


San Juan-Chama Project transfers water from three rivers to storage areas in New Mexico

CHAMA VALLEY -- Churning water tumbles out of a tunnel, appearing out of nowhere in this scenic northern New Mexico valley blanketed with grass and dotted with pinons and junipers.

It is mid-May, the peak of the spring runoff season, and almost 7,500 gallons of water are pouring through the 11-foot diameter pipe every second.

"This is beautiful," said Isidoro "Izzy" Manzanares, manager of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Chama field division. "We like to see a lot of water like this."

The water comes from Colorado mountain snowpack that naturally would flow into the San Juan River, a tributary of the westward-flowing Colorado River.

But a federal water project -- dubbed San Juan-Chama -- takes that water from three rivers and sends it east, through 27 miles of tunnels as deep as 2,400 feet below mountains and verdant valleys. Eventually, the water comes out of the Azotea Tunnel in the Chama Valley. It flows down Willow Creek into Heron Reservoir and then is released for buyers -- or contractors -- in New Mexico.

The project is a symbol of the kind of human engineering and massive Bureau of Reclamation water projects that have made development of the West possible. …

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